Another Animated Trek.
ParamountPlus has just released its 45 minute, double-length pilot (“Lost and Found”) of its newest youth-targeted animated series “Star Trek: Prodigy”, which once again sees Star Trek lore as inspiring to a new group of characters (and younger audiences). Of course, this is not the first time Star Trek has gone animated, with the first being Star Trek: The Animated Series in 1973; more recently, some of the Star Trek “Short Treks” were animated, and last year also saw the debut of the increasingly popular Star Trek: Lower Decks which, as I’ve said before in this column, just isn’t my cuppa Earl Grey.
Note: To those who enjoy “Lower Decks”? More power to ya, but it’s just not my frequency of humor. I’m personally glad to see the series drawing in new fans to the Star Trek fold, as well as its enormous popularity on social media, but it’s just not for me–leave it at that.
The recent animated Star Treks have been targeting older audiences, specifically Lower Decks, with its more adult humor and “Rick & Morty”-style smartassery (same creator, in fact). Again, it’s just not my thing. Star Trek: Prodigy promises a return to more earnest, less cynical adventures that kids can watch without their parents losing it over bad language or blacked-out “buffalo” moments (that blackened shot of Boimler’s junk caused quite a stir on the interwebs…).
“Lost and Found.”
Prodigy’s pilot, “Lost and Found,” was written by Dan and Kevin Hageman, mainly involves our young hero/audience avatar Dal (voiced by Brett Gray), a purple, teenaged alien boy who dreams of escaping his prison mine surroundings and making a break for the stars. He has no idea what species he belongs to, and he can’t even communicate with his fellow miners for lack of universal translators, which are kept with the authorities to prevent prison gossip. In the show’s first half, he attempts to drive a hauler vehicle up into space, just to escape.
The “Diviner” (John Noble) runs the mining camp and is the show’s main villain, who seeks to learn the identity and whereabouts of a mysterious “Zero” (Angus Imrie) a non-corporeal, non-gender entity known as a ‘Medusan’, who has to remain housed in a mechanical spider-like casing since its true appearance would cause madness to anyone who looks directly at it. The Diviner appoints his own daughter Gwyn (Ella Purnell), a sympathetic character, to assign the restless, but surprisingly resourceful Dal to help locate Zero.
Note: Medusans, of course, were first introduced in the 1968 Star Trek TOS episode “Is There In Truth No Beauty?” when Spock temporarily went mad after terminating a telepathic link with a member of that species (without protective eyewear). The Medusans were reputed to be brilliant navigators, capable of plotting courses through multiple dimensions with relative ease, but as we see in “Lost and Found,” Zero still has a lot to learn…
Before long, Dal’s life is saved in an avalanche by a large, brutish-looking rocky-skinned creature named Rok-Tahk (Rylee Alazraqui), whose massive form survives the falling rock without harm. Dal and Rok are then greeted by the sight of a buried Federation starship, the USS Protostar, a ship with a familiar, arrowhead-shaped primary hull, reminiscent of the starship USS Voyager. Entering the sleek, advanced starship (the true object of the Diviner’s quest), Rok discovers a Starfleet com badge which automatically translates between she (yes, the formidable-looking/sounding Rok is, chronologically, a young girl) and Dal.
After establishing a rapport, Dal and Rok welcome Zero aboard, along with burly, argumentative Tellarite mechanic Jankom Pog (Jason Mantzoukas) and a pile of sentient slime named Murf (voice of animated Star Wars voice acting veteran Dee Bradley Baker). Murf is, conceptually, very much like the late Norm Macdonald’s surly gelatinous engineer “Yaphit” from “The Orville” (almost legal-actionably so) but with a sweeter, puppy-like disposition. The five of them are in a race to patch together the Protostar and make a break for the stars.
Note: Star Trek borrowing from “The Orville” seems well, logical, since “The Orville” essentially borrows its entire core concept from Star Trek…
Note: The Tellarites are another species first introduced in TOS’ “Journey to Babel,” where they were introduced as pugnacious, ill-tempered, pig-like humanoids who love a good argument. Their appearance throughout Star Trek has oscillated between more human and more swine-like, with Prodigy’s Jankom splitting the difference.
When the Diviner realizes that Dal is not where Gwyn said he would be, he summons her to negotiate with the attempted escapees. Based on earlier conversations between them, Dal remembers how Gwyn yearned for a better life among the stars…so, in an impulsive act, he kidnaps her and takes her about “his” ship (Dal is the self-appointed captain, of course…).
Soon, after a dangerous battle with the Diviner on the outer hull, and equally Han Solo-ish flying by their inexperienced Medusan pilot, the USS Protostar breaks free and heads for the stars. Dal, unsure of where to take their stolen ship next, is greeted by a hologram of Captain Kathryn Janeway (voice of Kate Mulgrew); the lauded Federation captain who brought her ship home from the Delta Quadrant after a perilous 7 year flight. She will act as guide, for what her programming assumes are a group of young Starfleet cadets on a little ‘training cruise’…
Note: Yes, Kate Mulgrew returns to the role that made her so beloved by a generation of Star Trek fans and inspired many young women to seek careers in space science and even astronautics. I was never a huge fan of Voyager, but after a recent rewatch, my opinion of the series has softened considerably–and I’m a huge fan of Kate Mulgrew the human being, who is very inspiring (and refreshingly candid) during her convention appearances.
Summing It Up.
Overall, this new Star Trek animated series is made from the same mold as “Star Wars: Rebels”, right down to young, ne’er do well heroes (Dal, Ezra Bridger) who escape their dull confinement and head off into space with a group of galactic would-be heroes. Ironically, it’s something I said I wanted back when Lower Decks premiered–a Star Trek series with “Star Wars”-style animation and more earnest, sincere characterizations.
Well, it’s here now, and while I enjoyed the show, I am clearly not the series’ target demographic. The show’s connections to Star Trek are superficial at first, and overall it feels more like a Star Wars story, save for the occasional bits of Star Trek nomenclature sprinkled about. However, after the mining camp breakout, with our heroes (temporarily) safe in their sleek new Starfleet ride, that ol’ Star Trek magic begins to work itself in. I imagine fans who grew up in the 1990s got a serious case of the feels when they saw hologram Kathryn Janeway appear as a computer-generated den mother to guide our new young crew.
Prodigy looks at Star Trek from a new perspective, with Star Trek’s Federation once again situated as a benevolent utopian ideal whose values are seen as aspirational, and its starships seen as a romantic means to a better life. How many kids have imagined themselves whisked away in a sleek starship, traveling at warp speeds from one adventure to another? If the series is handled with care, this sense of wonder could be mined to the fullest…
Of course, I’m sure Prodigy will inspire yet another tiresome round of debate among older fans about its status as “real” Star Trek or not (arguments I plan to avoid in earnest), but perhaps it’s wise to remember that not everything with a Star Trek label has to appeal to all Star Trek fans. Star Trek fandom is as diverse and consensus-challenged as the various aliens within the four quadrants of the galaxy. I haven’t yet decided if Prodigy will be habit-forming for me yet, but if it’s not? I’m fine with letting younger audiences have this one, just as some older Trek fans exactly didn’t warm up to the 1973 Animated Series when I was a kid.
While perhaps not the most original of Star War–er, Star Trek series, Prodigy checks its boxes off cleanly and efficiently, offering colorful, family-friendly action adventure that may bring some younger fans into the fold and perhaps even give their 1990s-nostalgic parents something to chew on as well.
Where to Watch.
“Star Trek: Prodigy” (and all Star Trek series) can be streamed on ParamountPlus. To my readers, I once again wish you and all of your loved ones good health and strength during the current COVID pandemic. The current number of COVID-related deaths in the United States are well over 740,000 as of this writing (nearly 5 million deaths worldwide), so please wear masks and get vaccinated as soon as possible to prevent infections and protect your loved ones (booster shots are now available as well–just got mine yesterday, in fact). With a bit of Star Trek optimism and medical science, we can persevere through this pandemic.
Live long and prosper!